44 countries have criminalised sex between consenting adult women, and of these at least ten countries (which have previously only criminalised male relationships) have recently expanded their laws to include women.
Many of the laws were first instigated under British colonial rule and others are based on Sharia law.
The Trust warns that while many countries have historically only criminalised male homosexuality due to the legacy of British colonial penal codes, increased international criticism of the laws is having the counter-intuitive effect of laws being expanded to include women as states believe the legal basis is strengthened if they are gender neutral and therefore more ‘equal’.
Ironically, such amendments [to criminalise women] are often made on the inaccurate premise of ensuring non-discrimination in the State’s treatment of male and female homosexuals.
A Botswana court found that a gross indecency law that only applied to male homosexuals, and not female homosexuals, was discriminatory, but that the discrimination was rectified when the provision was made gender-neutral.
Similarly, a court in Solomon Islands found that the male gross indecency law was discriminatory since women were not criminalised, but found that this would be rectified by removing the word ‘male’.”
The report warns that while reports on LGBT criminalisation can often focus on gay and bisexual men, women experience criminalisation in specific and particularly damaging ways.
Corrective rape is found to be common as a way of ‘curing’ women of same-sex attraction and forced marriages with men are also a continuing threat.
As social and economic structures are already designed to require women to be dependent on men, women can experience particular stigma and practical issues if seeking to live independently outside of a ‘traditional’ relationship or with another woman.
Another concern highlighted in the report is how restrictions on women’s movement in socially conservative countries can often mean it is forbidden for women to travel without a man, making it difficult for women to meet in private.
Women in general are disadvantaged economically in many societies, for example by inequality in family structures, labour markets and laws on property and inheritance, which in turn compound the human rights violations faced by lesbians and bisexual women as they are less able to live independently without male family members.
Women [pressured into sham ‘heterosexual’ marriages] are likely to have significantly less control over their own bodies than gay men who enter sham heterosexual marriages, and may have little control over their sexual and reproductive health choices.”